The intersection of race and religion has been a complex and often controversial topic throughout history. One such instance is the relationship between Mormons and Blacks in the Mormon church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)). In this article, we will answer the question: “Are Mormons Racist?” and shine light on the truth.
Understanding the historical context behind the priesthood ban, its eventual lifting, and the current stance of the LDS Church on race is essential for fostering a comprehensive perspective on this issue.
- Prophets of the LDS Church in Order
- Mormon Faith
- Mormon Genealogy
- Joseph Smith LDS
- Joseph Smith’s Wife: Emma Hale Smith
Mormons and Blacks in Late 1800s and Early 1900s America
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the United States was grappling with widespread racial discrimination and segregation.
This era, known for its Jim Crow laws and racial tensions, greatly influenced various institutions, including religious organizations.
The LDS Church, established in the early 19th century, was not immune to the prevailing racial prejudices of the time.
Are Mormons Racist? – The Priesthood Ban
At the onset of the LDS Church, black individuals were not allowed to hold the priesthood. The priesthood is a significant aspect of Mormon theology, with men being ordained to various levels of authority within the Church. The origin of this priesthood ban is traced back to the mid-19th century, and it was officially implemented in the early 20th century.
Mormons and Blacks in the 1800s
To find out exactly what was happening regarding Mormons and blacks, it is best to read the history of what really happened.
“The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans. Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion.
Many Christian churches of that era, for instance, were segregated along racial lines. From the beginnings of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity could be baptized and received as members. Toward the end of his life, Church founder Joseph Smith openly opposed slavery. There has never been a Churchwide policy of segregated congregations.
During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois.
There is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. In a private Church council three years after Joseph Smith’s death, Brigham Young praised Q. Walker Lewis, a black man who had been ordained to the priesthood, saying, “We have one of the best Elders, an African.”LDS Study Manual
The Civil Rights Movement and Changing Perspectives
The mid-20th century marked a significant turning point in American history with the Civil Rights Movement. As the nation grappled with issues of racial equality, many religious institutions were prompted to reevaluate their own discriminatory practices. The LDS Church was no exception.
In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, the Church faced increasing scrutiny for its stance on race. Pressure mounted both internally and externally for a reevaluation of the priesthood ban. Church leaders engaged in thoughtful deliberation and, in 1978, a landmark revelation was received by then-President Spencer W. Kimball, announcing the end of the priesthood ban for black members.
The Revelation: A Pivotal Moment in LDS Church History
The revelation in 1978 marked a transformative moment for the LDS Church. President Kimball declared that all worthy male members, regardless of race, were now eligible to receive the priesthood.
This historic announcement shattered racial barriers within the Church and ushered in a new era of inclusivity and equality.
The revelation was met with a mixture of emotions within the Church. Many members celebrated the end of a discriminatory policy that had persisted for over a century, while others grappled with the implications of this significant doctrinal shift.
Nonetheless, the Church moved forward, embracing a more inclusive approach to membership and leadership.
Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings. In June 1978, after “spending many hours in the Upper Room of the [Salt Lake] Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,” Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation.
"He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come,” the First Presidency announced on June 8. The First Presidency stated that they were “aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us” that “all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood.”
The revelation rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination. It also extended the blessings of the temple to all worthy Latter-day Saints, men and women.LDS Study Manual About Race
Are Mormons Racist? The Truth
In short, no Mormons are not racist. Contrary to misconceptions, the LDS Church has made substantial strides in combating racism and promoting inclusivity.
The post-1978 era witnessed a concerted effort by Church leaders to foster an environment that welcomes members of all races and ethnicities. Doctrinally, the Church teaches Christian principles of love, unity, and acceptance.
The LDS Church emphasizes the teachings of Jesus Christ, emphasizing the importance of loving one’s neighbor and treating all individuals with kindness and respect.
The Book of Mormon, a sacred text for LDS members, contains passages advocating for the love and inclusion of all people, irrespective of their race or background.
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”Bible: Mark 12:30-31 KJV
Church leaders have consistently spoken out against racism, encouraging members to actively combat prejudice and discrimination in all its forms. Efforts to promote racial understanding and unity within the Church have included educational initiatives, leadership training, and outreach programs aimed at building bridges between diverse communities.
Famous Black Mormons
While the history of blacks in the LDS Church includes challenges, it also highlights the contributions of many prominent and famous black Mormons. These individuals have made significant strides in various fields, contributing to the Church’s growth and fostering a more diverse and representative membership.
One such notable figure is Jane Manning James, an early black convert to the Church who played a crucial role in the early history of Mormonism. Her unwavering faith and dedication to the Church serve as an inspirational example for modern-day members.
Another prominent figure is Helvécio Martins, a Brazilian who became the first black general authority in the LDS Church. Martins’ leadership and service have paved the way for greater diversity in leadership positions within the Church.
The relationship between Mormons and Blacks in the LDS Church has evolved significantly over the years. From the challenging history of the priesthood ban to the landmark revelation of 1978, the Church has undergone a transformative journey toward greater inclusivity and equality.
The teachings of love, unity, and acceptance espoused by the LDS Church underscore its commitment to fostering a diverse and harmonious community.
While acknowledging the historical challenges, it is crucial to recognize the strides made by the LDS Church in dismantling racial barriers and promoting a culture of acceptance. The stories of famous black Mormons further demonstrate the diversity and richness of the Church’s membership.
“Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.“LDS Study Manual
In navigating the complex terrain of race and religion, the LDS Church continues to prioritize the teachings of Jesus Christ, promoting a message of love for all and challenging its members to actively combat racism in all its forms. To those wondering if Mormons are racist, I hope this article helped a bit in understanding where the LDS church stands on racism.
As the Church moves forward, its commitment to inclusivity stands as a testament to the enduring principles that guide its members on the path of discipleship and unity.